Mural Mural on the Wall

12/09/2008

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As Matt and I were shopping for Christmas gifts this weekend, Matt pointed out that Halle, our youngest, didn’t have a proper copy of Madeline.  I loved Madeline as a little girl, when Paris was still – literally and figuratively – a world away.  So we picked up a copy.  Matt mentioned that the author and illustrator, Ludwig Bemelmans, was the man that our favorite bar in our favorite New York hotel was named after.  (How I never made this connection is beyond me, but pparently everyone on the planet was hip to this but me.)  In any case, it makes me love Bemelmans Bar and the Carlyle even more.

As it turns out, Bemelmans’ past was as colorful as his cartoons.  After dropping out of school at an early age, the sixteen-year-old Austrian artist-to-be shot a head-waiter while working at a hotel restaurant owned by his uncle.  His family gave him the choice of reform school or a one-way ticket to America.  Bemelmans chose the latter and arrived in New York in 1914, carrying two pistols with which to fend off hostile Indians. Once again, his career as a waiter was disastrous. After losing a job because he arrived wearing one yellow and one white shoe, Bemelmans enlisted in the Army. His antics as a military man and his difficulties in adjusting to the ways of his adopted country are the subject of his hilarious memoir, My War with the United States.

After the end of World War I, Bemelmans returned to New York and continued to work in hotels and restaurants and began his career as an artist.  Bemelmans married Madeleine Freund in 1935, and they had a daughter named Barbara. Although he named his beloved character after his wife, Bemelmans said that watching his daughter gave him many of the inspirations for his Madeline books.  Madeline was published in 1939.

While Bemelmans’ notoriety as a children’s author grew, he continued to contribute writings and drawings to magazines including Vogue, Town and Country, The New Yorker, Fortune, Harper’s Bazaar, McCall’s, Holiday, and Stage. He also published many adult books, including Tell Them It Was Wonderful and Hotel Splendide.

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